If the Formula 1 World Championship has always been seen as the 'highest expression' of motor racing, for a long time the sportscar championship was a car manufacturer’s best tool for commercial promotion and technical development. Open-top and two-seater vehicles, which at the same time could be used for racing or sold as road equipment: the spider was a favourite among the wealthy youth of the time, who loved speed and the good life and equally popular among leading personalities from the worlds of show business, finance, and business...
The sale of sports cars and road derivatives generated a higher turnover than the single-seaters. Over the years, the terms 'Barchetta’ and 'Prototype’ were adopted for sports cars. In both cases, this was entirely appropriate, given their 'barchetta' (small boat) shape and the custom of experimenting with racing solutions that could also be used on road models.
In 1953, the International Automobile Federation ratified the organisation of the World Sportscar Championship. This trophy was awarded directly to the winning brand, making it more important to them than the Formula 1 World Championship, which only crowned the driver (the Manufacturers' title was only awarded from 1958). This is why all the official drivers raced in both categories, often alongside wealthy gentlemen-drivers who bought the cars, or with young emerging talent seeking to make a name for themselves by frustrating the more experienced champions.
The sportscar category brought the races to the people, on city routes that hosted the famous Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, Carrera Panamericana, or ones partially open to traffic like Le Mans, the world’s most famous endurance race. The 1953 season made its US debut with the 12 Hours of Sebring, deserted by European manufacturers, given that only the best four results counted for the final positions. Anyway, Ed Lunken and Charles Hassan's privately owned 166 MM finished sixth.
The next outing was the Mille Miglia where Scuderia Ferrari wanted the best possible start to its championship. Four 340 MMs were entered: Count Giannino Marzotto and the Welshman with a US licence Tom Cole drove cars with Vignale bodywork, while Luigi Villoresi and Nino Farina had Touring bodies. Marzotto, as always in shirt and tie, won, setting a record average for the race of over 142 km/h, repeating his victory in 1950 with the Ferrari 195 S Coupé, again paired with his navigator friend Marco Crosara. Marzotto’s car was the same as the one driven by Villoresi to win the Giro di Sicilia a month before.
This 300 cv car was very demanding to drive. Marzotto triumphed ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio, Felice Bonetto, and Cole. The third round of the season was an unlucky one for Maranello. In the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Scuderia lined up three 375 MM Berlinetta Competizione Pinin Farinas, two of which were powered by the 340 MM engine, while Alberto Ascari and Villoresi's cars packed the new 4.5 litre 340 cv 375 F1 engine.
The brothers Giannino and Paolo Marzotto crossed the finish line in fifth. Nino Farina and Mike Hawthorn were disqualified for topping up on brake fluid, something not permitted by the regulations. Tom Cole, on the other hand, died in a terrible accident while driving the 340 MM Vignale Spider together with Luigi Chinetti. From the next 24 Hours of Spa all three 375 MMs adopted the 4,500 cc engine. Farina and Hawthorn won, while in the equally demanding and prestigious 1000 km of Nürburgring, first place went to Ascari and Farina, this time in a Spider, not a Berlinetta.
The Maranello-based company did not compete in the Tourist Trophy but had five cars in the Carrera Panamericana, all in the colours of Scuderia Guastalla of Luigi Chinetti and Franco Cornacchia. The fourth place secured by Guido Mancini and Fabrizio Serena sealed the points needed for the championship title. A new chapter in the Ferrari legend had opened.